Angela Magee

Venice Diaries: ‘How a month in Venice is still having an impact’ by Angela Magee

Fine Art student Angela Magee, CSAD’s first Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice Invigilation Plus programme participant reflects on how her month at the Wales Pavilion continues to impact on her ideas and how it will inspire her practice as she begins her third year:-

It’s been a month and a half since I returned from my stint as an invigilator in Venice at James Richard’s show, Music for the gift, with Cymru yn Fenis Wales. Since then I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the experience and how it’s changed my perspective going into my final year as a fine art student.

While in Venice I was reliant on the internet to stay connected to the outside world and, as always these days, it was full of all things Trump and talk of fake news. Trump seemed to me to be the antithesis of the beautiful church in which I was working, but in reality power had corrupted them both.

Built in the 11th Century to shelter pilgrims, the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice has been home to an order of Franciscan nuns (wiped out by the plague of 1630), a hospital, a hostel for the poor and it is currently student residence. It’s been the exhibition venue for Cymru yn Fenis Wales since 2011.

At a WIFI café one morning, I noticed a friend had posted a viral video on my Facebook wall. It was described as protein myosin molecules dragging endorphins into the inner part of a brain’s cortex. Turns out it wasn’t, but nobody cared. The video had been shared over a million times.

Reality has become filtered through Facebook. With more than 2 billion monthly active users (as of June 2017) it is a global melting pot for all faiths and cultures. Historically, Religion has been the driving force behind the rise of communities, but it’s not God that holds people together on Facebook.  Made up of Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists and agnostics of all ages, backgrounds, morals and social practices, Facebook is the great equaliser.

Nobody is excluded if they follow the basic rules and play nice. If you have access to the internet, you can be part of the cult. With no requirement to even get up off your arse to worship, is Facebook taking the place religion? It is an idea I’ll be exploring through my art next term.

Although James Richards often collaborates or works with material generated by others, or sourced via the Internet, his choice and treatment of layered sounds, music, words and appropriated footage creates something fresh and compelling.

For example, in Music for the Gift, a narration of ‘Walking into the dark’, by feminist poet Adrienne Rich, is paired with vintage archival footage of two men wrestling underwater, accompanied by an ethereal vocal composition by Richards. The effect is mesmerising.

“Clarity and spray, blinding and purging, spears of sun striking the water, the bodies riding the air like gliders, the bodies in slow motion…”

An extract translated from Herve Guibert’s ‘Ghost’, about an obsession with a photograph of a young boy, is narrated over poor quality close up video footage of skin and hairs of a man’s arm. Watching it you long for the camera to pull away to reveal the man behind the arm, but Richards has the guts to deny us that and still keep us riveted.

Inspired by James Richard’s work and thinking around ideas of religion, loss, faith and the cult of Facebook, I created a short low-resolution video beginning to piece ideas together and have included an extract on the link below.

It includes some of the written work I did in the church, inspired by the statue of Mary at the church and the Manchester arena terror attack that happened while I was away. I imagined a conversation with Mary as an old woman talking about her memories of the son she’d lost.

There’s some footage I made of the press-week visitors at the Giardini, many of whom were deliciously eccentric. I replaced the audio in a viral video of a baby, so that it seemed she was reacting to the words of a TV evangelist rather than her mother’s song. I finished with the endorphin animation I mentioned earlier.

Exposure to James Richards’ work and the Biennale has opened my mind to a whole new world of possibilities. I now have a clear direction of installation, film and digital sound leading into my final year of my degree.

As a networking opportunity, my time as an invigilator at the Biennale has been invaluable. I’ve met Hannah Firth, Chapter’s Director of Visual Arts and Programme and curator of the Wales in Venice exhibition, Louise Wright, and Cerys Thomas at the Arts Council for Wales and talked to James Richards about his work. I’ve connected with Nicholas Thornton the Head of Fine & Contemporary Art at the National Museum Wales; Anthony, Sam and Chris from G39 and various invigilators from across the UK and Europe. From my perspective, heading into my third year, it was a gift.

To be able to walk through the Giardini and the Arsenale and coming face to face with lager than life installations, artwork, and performances by artists each regarded as the best in their field, has fired up my imagination.

I’m grateful to the Arts Council for Wales, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Chapter and G39 for this invigilating experience. Witnessing hundreds of different reactions from people of all nationalities to the same exhibition is a unique experience that could not be gained in any other way. It’s changed my perspective as an artist and given me the confidence to push my work in a direction I would never have gone before.